Special Report

French Fries Aren't French and Other Deceptively Named Foods

French fries aren’t French, Swiss steak isn’t Swiss, and Mongolian barbecue isn’t Mongolian — or, for that matter, barbecue. 

These are just three examples of foods with misleading names. Many more things we eat, both raw materials and finished dishes, end up being called something deceptive for various reasons. This can be mildly annoying, though it’s nowhere near as bad as buying and avidly consuming foods and drinks you only think are healthy.

Why do foods get misnamed? Sometimes what they’re called is a corruption or misinterpretation of a legitimate term. Sometimes it describes the way a dish used to be made, even though it has since evolved. And sometimes it’s an attempt to make a food sound more appealing than it really is (see Rocky Mountain oysters, below) — or merely a marketing gimmick.

In an effort to lend an air of authenticity to what we eat, for instance, we sometimes ascribe exotic origins to homegrown items. For instance, we commonly eat many “foreign” foods that are really American.

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In most cases, it doesn’t really matter what a food is called, of course. English muffins are no less attractive a breakfast choice because they were invented roughly 3,500 miles southwest of London. As long as there’s no deliberate attempt at deception involved — Japanese wagyu beef had better come from Japan! — what a food is called shouldn’t make it taste any less delicious. 

Of course, it’s always useful to know the basics — like the fact that headcheese isn’t a dairy product, or that you shouldn’t serve puppy chow to Fido.

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